The 2016 World Magic Cup had been full of memorable stories, of heartwarming displays of teamwork in action, of exciting matches, of interesting decks doing interesting things. The following are our Top 5 picks, the moments which made this an event to remember.
5. The Impressive Performance of Macedonia and Other Small Countries
"Is Macedonia doing this…to Canada?" commentator Simon Görtzen wondering at the start of that clip.
For proper context, let's take a step back. For most of the teams, especially the ones from smaller communities, the World Magic Cup offered an opportunity to represent an entire nation of Magic players at the highest stage, and some of them made their fans back home very proud with breakthrough performances. Australia, Belarus, Finland, Panama, and Ukraine achieved a Top 8 at the World Magic Cup for the first time in history. For Panama, it was even their first Day Two!
Back to Macedonia. Like Panama, Macedonia is a relatively small country with a population of only several million people. They had only made Day Two one time before at this tournament, but their run on Day Two this year was worthy of a top moment. In consecutive rounds, they were paired against Israel (captained by two-time World Champion Shahar Shenhar), United States (led by third-ranked Owen Turtenwald), and Canada (captained by Platinum Pro Alexander Hayne). All of those were David versus Goliath matches, but Macedonia emerged victorious in all of them. They even did so in style, with a neatly built Abzan deck featuring Smuggler's Copter. Over the course of the tournament, Fulminator Mage, Elves of the Deep Shadow, a Siege Rhinorhinoceros, and even a Dryad Arbortree jumped in as the pilot.
Even through Macedonia ultimately lost to Australia for the Top 8, they reminded everyone that small countries can defeat pro-laden teams like any other.
4. The Killing Fiend
Most players didn't even expect there to be a breakout deck at this tournament at all. After all, Modern offered a wealth of established archetypes to choose from, and even the limitations of Team Unified Modern didn't prevent a team from going with, say, Infect or Affinity plus Dredge plus any kind of third deck, which is exactly what most of the field did.
But a few teams went beyond the obvious, and figured out that Blue-Red Kiln Fiend was uniquely positioned to thrive in the expected environment. Mostly a sleeper up until now, the deck had popped up at a Grand Prix a while ago and found a growing following on Magic Online. Here at the World Magic Cup, five teams had it in their line-up and three of them made it to the Top 8. In a world where only a third of the players could have Lightning Bolt in their decks, Blue-Red Kiln Fiend was likely the best choice among them.
As for one moment to showcase the deck's strength, there were numerous options, curiously none of which involved the deck's namesake. For instance, the moment in the quarterfinals when Australian Ryan Cubit cast Monastery Swiftspear on turn one, and then Manamorphose, Young Pyromancer, and three copies of Mutagenic Growth on turn two. Or the turn in the quarterfinals when Finland's Leo Lahonen ran four one-mana spells including two Gitaxian Probe into Chalice of the Void just to transform Thing in the Ice, taking the game on his next turn via Temur Battle Rage.
Best of all, however, was the almost literal turn two kill Leo Lahonen was responsible for on the first day, attacking for 18 with Monastery Swiftspear, thanks to Gitaxian Probe, Mutagenic Growth, Mutagenic Growth, and Temur Battle Rage. You can relive the moment in the clip above.
3. Team Italy Nearly Repeats
Andrea Mengucci was the only player in the room on Sunday who was gunning for back-to-back World Magic Cup titles. However, it wasn't so much for himself than it was for Italy, and Mattia Rizzi, Alessandro Casamenti, and Alessandro Portaro shared similar passion and patriotism. If they had won out, they would have jointly created the first ever repeat country of the World Magic Cup together, and for it to happen one year after another would be beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
Despite starting out 1-2 in Day One, the team persevered and rattled off four straight wins in the Team Unified Modern portion to finish within the Top 16 seeds. That enabled them to skip past Stage 1, Round 1 as they continued their ascension to the top. After defeating Team Australia in the quarterfinals, they were paired against the seemingly-unstoppable Team Belgium, who had a close to perfect run all the way to the finals.
Another great memory for them would be Portaro piloting Lantern Control during the elimination rounds. It was a popular choice among many teams, largely because it benefited the most from Kaladesh. Aside from Blooming Marsh and Glint-Nest Crane, Inventors' Fair was also a significant upgrade, as demonstrated by Portaro, who sacrificed it against Australian National Champion David Mines to search for a second Pithing Needle to complete an unbreakable lock. Against Branco Neirynck's Naya Burn in the semifinals, the legendary land also brought his life total out of range, climbing back from 1 single life to a more manageable 8 before the Belgians decided that Portaro was out of reach.
Nonetheless, it was a good run for the Italians, and even though they didn't run it back as they hoped, it was an exhilarating and enviable experience to even be in a position to give it a shot.
2. Belgium's Jerome Bastogne Showing his Goryo's Vengeance Expertise
Belgium's Jerome Bastogne piloted an incredible game that was easily picked as the coverage team's favorite of the weekend.
The team from Belgium had dominated the tournament, as they didn't lose a match on Day One and had an almost unblemished record on Day Two. Three of their team members (Peter Vieren, Pascal Vieren, and Branco Neirynck) were all familiar names with multiple Grand Prix Top 8s to their name, but their hidden weapon was relative unknown Jerome Bastogne. Bastogne was one of the many Modern masters who had won a Modern World Magic Cup Qualifier with a deck that he had been playing for over a year. His weapon of choice, the Goryo's Vengeance deck also known as Grishoalbrand, was one that he knew inside out, as he showed with his detailed explanations during a deck tech and with his impressive wins in the Top 8.
His semifinals was even better, and it was picked by the commentary team as the match of the weekend. In his second game against Italy's Mattia Rizzi, both players had opportunities to win the game with the cards in their hand, but chose not to because of the cards their opponents were representing. Rizzi didn't go for Infect kills out of fear of Sudden Shock, while Bastogne tried to play around Spell Pierce. Then, when Rizzi played Ravenous Trap in an attempt to exile both copies of Borborygmos Enraged, Bastogne decided to throw caution in the wind and felt he had to go off. Rizzi did not have Spell Pierce after all, so Through the Breach resolved and put Griselbrand onto the battlefield. He tried to go off, drawing 28 cards without finding a second Nourishing Shoal, but then fizzled and had to pass the turn.
Despite that, he still won! He kept enough Sudden Shocks to stay alive against Rizzi's infect creatures, and eventually ended up winning by attacking with Griselbrand twice. It was a crazy match and an even less likely conclusion, but it was easily one of the most interesting games in the tournament.
Belgium came very close to the trophy, but in the finals, even Bastogne couldn't stop the superpower that was Greece.
1. Redemption for Greece
Historically, Greece had always been a strong contender when it came to the World Magic Cup. Being one of two countries to boast a 100% Day Two rate (the other is Scotland), they also made it to the finals of the 2014 World Magic Cup. National Champion Bill Chronopoulos was on the lineup which fell to the Danes in the finals two years ago.
Going into this weekend, he had nothing but victory on his mind and vowed to claim the title of World Magic Cup Champion, a title which he had been dreaming about since the previous heartbreaking defeat. His teammates Nikolaos Kaponis, Panagiotis Papadopoulos, and Petros Tziotis did not want him to feel the pain of having to lose in the finals twice.
Chronopoulos knew that he had made the correct choice and he could win the deciding match with his trusty Dredge deck. He had to win. His teammates had entrusted him all weekend so why should the finals match be any different? After unearthing Scourge Devil and sending it in with Prized Amalgam and Bloodghast, that put the Belgians within range of the game-winning Conflagrate.
"I told you guys!" were the first words to emerge from Chronopoulos's lips, and his teammates erupted into more excitement than could be put into words.
Also, the running joke between the close-knitted squad was that Papadopoulos could not win a match all throughout the tournament except the ones that truly mattered the most. He had clinched the crucial win-and-in match to send his team into the Top 8 and also executed a turn two kill against Peter Vieren in the finals, which involved a turn-one Glistener Elf and a second-turn Might of Old Krosa and triple Mutagenic Growth!
Together, the Greeks did what they had arrived in Rotterdam to do and they stuck together through thick and thin to bring eternal glory to the nation of Greece. This was a story of blood, sweat and toil, as well as second chances and redemption. Congratulations to Greece, your 2016 World Magic Cup Champions!